Millions of car owners in the United States suffer the misfortune of having their cars towed every year. You can pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars in fees to retrieve your vehicle from a towing agency if this happens to you. So why does this happen, and when is it legal for a car to be towed without your permission?
Someone can tow your car without permission in the case of exceptional circumstances including: driving without a license, when your vehicle is involved in an accident, illegal parking, involvement in crime, vehicles considered abandoned, and driver’s blood level above the allowed limit.
In the rest of this article, I’ll discuss these circumstances in detail so that you can understand their legal basis and context. Do you own a car, or are you planning to buy one? In either case, I recommend reading on because this article provides a beneficial resource to help you avoid the trouble of non-consensual towing.
Your car can be towed if you drive without a license. It’s illegal to drive without a license in the U.S. Therefore, if you can’t provide a valid driving license within 24 hours, your vehicle can be impounded. Your car can then be forfeited to the state and towed without your permission.
On the same breadth, because the police officer can’t verify your identity or ownership of the said vehicle, the car can be towed for safekeeping if you don’t have a valid license. Your permission is thus not required.
The law allows police officers to impound police vehicles for a period of up to 30 days, if the driver isn’t licensed. Therefore, ensure you have all the necessary paperwork and documentation before leaving the house to avoid parting with your car for a month.
You may also like to read: How to Check Your Driver’s License Status Online
Your car can be towed if you park illegally. Illegal parking describes an array of parking violations, including parking in restricted zones absent of consent, overstaying time limits, dangerous parking, and any parking that hinders access or exit from public or commercial properties.
In such instances, local authorities may authorize a towing company to remove your car, especially if there have been complaints by either the property owner or commercial tenant and their employees.
These instances include cases where the car is parked on private property or restricted areas of public property, including areas marked for use for those with disabilities and others. The purpose of these laws is to maintain safe, accessible parking areas for others.
According to the San Francisco police department, your car can be towed without permission when you park on private property. This particularly applies to private property where a visible sign says that parking is prohibited on said property and informs potential car owners that their cars will be towed at their expense.
In the absence of a sign, the law also allows towing with immediate effect if the private property is a single-family dwelling due to safety concerns. Alternatively, suppose the vehicle is missing significant parts, and the owner has already notified the police in advance. In that case, your car is considered a nuisance, and the towing agency will remove it without your permission.
Non-consensual towing also applies if you park your vehicle in private property for an extended period and fail to honor your parking violation notice for a period exceeding 96 hours.
While there’s nothing wrong with parking in a public parking lot, towing agencies can remove your car without your consent if you haven’t paid the parking fees. This is usually common in commercial complexes such as supermarkets or malls.
A good rule of thumb is to familiarize yourself with any signs or notices of parking restrictions on these commercial properties to avoid the headache.
There are also rules which apply to free parking lots that warrant proper understanding and appreciation. For instance, non-consensual towing will occur if you park within 15 feet of a fire hydrant, in space set aside for disabled persons, or in a place that impedes entry or exit into a building. Parking in these spots is considered illegal parking.
Another instance that’s considered illegal is parking in a parking lot reserved for a specific hotel room where you’re not staying. Your car may be towed immediately. Similarly, if you pack in residential apartment complexes’ parking lots where you’re not a tenant, you may suffer the same fate.
In some cases, you can be forced to leave your car if it has broken down. However, be warned that your vehicle may be towed away without requiring your consent if you abandon it.
The Department of Motor Vehicles defines abandoned vehicles in two ways:
- An abandoned vehicle is a car with all the correct registration details left on public or private property without notice for more than 48 hours.
- A vehicle without proper registration or identification left for an extended period on either public or private property.
Vehicles classified as abandoned can and will be removed from the public property following a law enforcement officer’s authorization. Upon determining that the car is abandoned, the officer in question is empowered to call a tow truck without requiring your consent.
The individual property owner can also legally contact a towing service to remove an abandoned vehicle. The DMV explains that the property owner only needs to notify the proper authorities in their jurisdiction and provide the vehicle details. There’s no requirement to search for or seek the consent of the car’s owner.
Your car can be towed if you get a DUI. Similar to driving without a valid driving license, your car will be forfeited to the state for safekeeping if you’re arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or other controlled substances.
Authorities authorize towing of motor vehicles if the driver is either arrested or charged with DUI charges. The driver can only retrieve the car upon release and after paying the necessary fines and fees.
In these cases, vehicles are towed for safety reasons, as the officer has deemed it unsafe for the driver to continue to operate the vehicle, and the vehicle needs to be transported to an alternate location off the road where it can be retrieved at a later date, when the driver is sober and able to safely take back control of the vehicle.
What about crime? Given the high incidences of highway crimes, law enforcement authorities place various protections to combat crime. To this end, the Travis County Sheriff’s Office explains that if your car is reported stolen or is involved in a crime, it’ll be immediately towed and impounded when found.
A police officer can direct a towing agency to tow and impound your car if they believe it’s related to any crime or has been reported stolen.
However, there’s a caveat; you may be allowed to arrange for another person to take your car home in some states. Therefore, a good understanding of the law across different states is a significant advantage.
You may have to request a hearing to release your vehicle if it’s tied to a particular crime. If you have reported your car missing, contact your local police department to find out if it was found, towed, and brought back to the station.
Non-consensual towing is common in accident scenarios. According to the Travis County sheriff’s office, your car will be towed without permission if it has been involved in a traffic accident. In such a scenario, you may either be incapacitated or hurt due to the accident.
Alternatively, you could be the driver or owner of the car but can’t provide details to the police on where you want your vehicle to be towed.
In the above scenario, because this is a police matter, the police can authorize towing your car without any form of permission from you. Such allowances are invaluable in preventing traffic buildups or other health hazards following an accident.
It’s usual for cars to get stuck in ditches or break down, which communicates how vital towing services are. The towing agency requires your consent to tow your vehicle in such scenarios. As shown in this article, this is not always the case, and several crucial exemptions (discussed herein) allow non-consensual towing.
The above exceptions can explain why your car has been towed without permission. If you find yourself as the victim, contact the relevant authorities and inquire about any fines or efforts required on your part to reclaim your car.
- How Much Does It Cost to Tow a Car?
- How Long Does a Car Have to Be Parked Before It Can Be Towed?
- Ways to Get Your Car Out of Impound